We've been telling you about experiments in 3D printed electronics since some of the earliest crude efforts, like the University of Warwick's conductive plastic composite we reported on in 2012. That material can be used with low-cost, hobbyist 3D filament fusion printers to make working, functional personal electronics devices, although they weren't much to look at.
Other techniques include Optomec's Aerosol Jet spray technology, a conformal printed electronics process for high-end industrial applications, aerospace, and consumer electronics. As we told you, that process has feature sizes down to 10 microns, compared with the 1 mm feature size of startup Rabbit Proto's open source software and plug-in print head we reported on last year that lets you prints plastics and electronics in one pass.
At CES this year, startup Voxel8 introduced what they're calling the world's first 3D electronics printer. The company and the printer are the brainchild of Harvard professor Jennifer A. Lewis, who heads the Lewis Lab. Lewis' team has been conducting R&D for the last decade on this technology, including process and materials such as lightweight composites, conductive inks for printed electronics, and embedded sensors in stretchable matrices. The team's research also resulted in lithium-ion micro-batteries, which Design News covered in 2013.
The Voxel8 has 3D-printed electromagnets, fully functional 3D electromechanical assemblies, and entire quadcopters. The team says its first-generation conductive inks are 5,000 times as conductive as the carbon-based inks that are currently used for 3D printing. The company is using Autodesk's new Project Wire 3D printing software.
An article in our sister publication EBN tells more about the printer and the startup. Here's the full story: Entering the Era of 3D Printed Electronics
MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: 3D-Printed Lithium-Ion Battery is the Size of a Pinhead
Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 25 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, machine vision, and all kinds of communications.